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#SOTU 2015: Middle-Class Economics and Expanding Opportunity

"The shadow of crisis has passed," said President Obama, in last night's State of the Union address. "And the state of the union is strong." While receiving standing ovations for job numbers (and getting in an ad-libbed dig at Republicans about winning the presidency), Obama outlined a vision for the country that focused on middle-class growth.

“The shadow of crisis has passed,” said President Obama, in last night’s State of the Union address. “And the state of the union is strong.” While receiving standing ovations for job numbers (and getting in an ad-libbed dig at Republicans about winning the presidency), Obama outlined a vision for the country that focused on middle-class growth.

Barack Obama 

(“Barack Obama Crossing the Cross Hall” by Chuck Kennedy. The Official White House Photostream – originally posted to Flickr as P042909CK-0166. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons )

It’s an area that has provided fodder for criticism of the president during the recovery. While job creation numbers have topped 200,000 monthly for nearly a year, and unemployment continues to decline, hourly wages have remained flat. In addition, middle-class jobs — the kind that pay at least $20 an hour and are found in industries like construction, manufacturing, and transportation — have only recently started to rebound.

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Right now, the president reminded us, there’s economic news to celebrate, including 11 million new American jobs in the past five years, a decreased dependence on foreign oil, and a high school and college graduation record that’s at an all-time high, as well a consumer watchdog group to prevent the predatory lending practices that helped fuel the economic collapse that created the recession. In addition, about 10 million previously uninsured citizens gained healthcare coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

Noting that the country had previously set up systems like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to protect Americans from tough times, the president announced that his budget proposal would address the needs of families to afford a home, healthcare, retirement, and education, by “lowering the taxes of working families and putting thousands of dollars back into their pockets each year.”

His proposals include:

  • Tax cuts of up to $3,000 per child, per year, to offset the cost of childcare, and a new tax code that would cut taxes for the middle class and raise them for the wealthy and for banks.
  • Helping states create paid sick leave laws, and calling for a national leave bill from Congress, to reduce the number of Americans who currently have no paid time off. Currently, 43 million workers have no PTO.
  • Calling for Congress to pass a law prohibiting wage discrimination against women, and to raise the minimum wage. (“If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it.”)
  • Free community college for students who attend school at least half-time and keep their GPA above 2.5.
  • Calling for a bipartisan plan to improve America’s infrastructure, and trade promotion authority to create new international trade deals.

Will these plans come to fruition? Time will tell, but it’s safe to say that any proposal that depends on a now-Republican Congress will have an uphill climb.

For example, CNN‘s Eric Bradner points out that Obama’s community college initiative, which would be funded by raising taxes on the wealthy, “stands next to no chance of clearing Congress.” But with the 2016 presidential election looming ever closer, the goal might be less to make these programs work in the short-term, but more to remind Americans of what government can do for them — if they’ll let it.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you think the economy will improve for the middle class? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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